On November 18, 2019, just five months after former Brant Lake Camp assistant director and veteran counselor Dylan Stolz began serving his four-and-a-half-year sentence for sexually abusing campers, the greater Brant Lake Camp community gathered in downtown Manhattan to mark a very different kind of milestone: the passing of 99-year-old former Brant Lake Camp director Robert Gersten, known to all as Bobby G.
As the Baruch Performing Arts Center auditorium filled with hundreds of well-dressed and mostly middle-aged alumni of the all-boys camp—former Brant Lakers include owners of N.B.A. franchises as well as the sons of Ralph Lauren and Jerry Seinfeld—old snapshots of the deceased were projected onto a screen. One featured a shirtless and muscular Bobby G. dribbling a basketball, presumably in his days as a star athlete at U.N.C. in the early 1940s, and looking like an Adonis, if Adonis were short, dark-haired, Jewish, and from the Bronx.
“You guys still always standing together?” said one balding, relatively fit man who appeared to be in his 30s, as he approached a group of similarly fit cashmere-clad men. “I knew you’d wear a gray sweater,” one of them cracked, provoking laughter all around. This, as anyone who has gone to Brant Lake, or paid the more than $13,000 tuition to send a child there for a summer, well knows, is a reference to the fiercely competitive, four-day-long, green-and-gray color war that has taken place annually at Brant Lake Camp for decades.
“I always wear gray!” the bald guy shot back at his onetime green rival, and everyone laughed again. As it turned out, one of them lives in New Rochelle; the other works at a hedge fund in Greenwich. Dinner was suggested, and backs were slapped all around.
Up onstage, images of the Adirondack Valhalla that was once their summer home away from home flashed by: the wide ribbon of sapphire lake; the ocher-colored clay tennis courts; and the manicured carpets of playing fields where they, like generations of Brant Lakers before them, were schooled in the arts of the perfect pitch and the exquisite swing. Many in the room seemed lost in reverie. To live once more in that rustic enclave, to sit once more in the warm glow of a giant bonfire as the orange sun sets over the lake.
When the program finally began, encomiums poured forth from grandchildren and great-grandchildren, a rabbi, and a long line of camp counselors, former and current. Then Bobby G.’s oldest son, Richie, Brant Lake’s executive director, took the podium. Handsome and gray-haired, just like his father, and dressed ecumenically for the occasion in a green blazer, a gray checked shirt, and a green-and-gray tie, Richie Gersten recited his father’s bio in brief, then his own—the trick of it being that the two are nearly identical. Both went to Long Beach High School, on Long Island, and to U.N.C., in Chapel Hill. Both worked as teachers, coaches, and school administrators. And both were devoted above all to Brant Lake Camp.
So, it seemed, were the many mourners in attendance, who were being treated to a replay of some of Brant Lake Camp’s greatest hits, like the fact that the lyricist Lorenz Hart had served as the camp’s inaugural dramatics counselor back in 1917. And the fact that civil-rights lawyer William Kunstler, another Brant Laker, was once a captain in green and gray against none other than Bobby G. himself.
A video was shown in which Bobby G. told of how Kunstler had offered him a truce that turned out to be a double cross. Thirty years later, after Watergate, Bobby G. called up Kunstler and asked how he could talk about Richard Nixon’s dirty tricks “when you pulled those dirty tricks on me?” Kunstler’s reply? “Bobby, green and gray was important.”
A year and a half earlier, on the first night of his 33rd summer as a counselor at Brant Lake, Dylan Stolz sent the e-mail that precipitated his downfall. At 11:42 p.m. on June 23, 2018, the then 51-year-old bleached blond, a resident of Queens, wrote to the parents of the youngest Brant Lakers of whom he was in charge: “Hi Frosh and Soph Parents. I just did my last walk through of the bunks, everyone is asleep. There were no tears on Soph Row today. Despite the rain, we were able to play. You can expect to hear from me in the next few days. All is good. Best, Dylan.”
The lyricist Lorenz Hart had served as Brant Lake Camp’s inaugural dramatics counselor back in 1917. Civil-rights lawyer William Kunstler, another Brant Laker, was once a captain in green and gray.
A few days later, Stolz left a follow-up voice mail for one of the boys’ mothers, claiming—falsely, as it would later turn out—that her son was sad that he hadn’t received any mail from her. The boy’s mother responded within minutes by e-mail: “Dylan, please please tell [my son] that we have written to him literally everyday starting over a week ago. Tell him we love him so much and we will send emails everyday as well as writing letters everyday. Thanks.”
The following morning, Stolz replied, “He was absolutely fine last night, not an issue at all, seemed completely fine. The best thing was this morning when I saw him before breakfast, he came over to me with a big smile and gave me a hug.” He closed the e-mail by saying, “I will personally look for all his mail today and deliver it to him. —Dylan.”
But the very next day, the boy’s mother received a letter reporting what had actually happened on that first night of camp as her son lay in bed, unable to fall asleep:
Dear Mom, Dad and [sibling],
I miss you guys so much. Dylan touched my penis. Evry thing [sic] is good except for that.
The mother was stunned. So confident was she that the “Dylan” in question could not possibly be the caring counselor with whom she’d just been e-mailing that she immediately checked the roster of kids in her son’s bunk. But not only was there no Dylan in her son’s bunk, there wasn’t even a child named Dylan in his whole “Sophs” division.
She then called Richie Gersten. “I said, ‘I’m not accusing, I’m not making any accusations, but this is what I received,’” the boy’s mother told me. “In retrospect, when I look back on it, I say, he didn’t even question it.”
Gersten suggested that the mother immediately have a phone call with her son, then sequestered Stolz in his quarters, fired him, and had him escorted off camp property. Meanwhile, the parents of the letter writer called in their son’s allegations to Brant Lake’s local Warren County district attorney.
The very next morning, New York State Police investigator Justin Mootz arrived at the camp. A former linebacker for Siena College, in Loudonville, outside of Albany, Mootz interviewed the boy who made the accusation and quickly determined that he was credible. But much to his frustration, Mootz was unable to interview the now fired Stolz, because no one from Brant Lake knew where he was.
“That’s my whole problem with this camp from the minute go,” says Mootz. “If [Stolz] was still at the camp, we could have picked him up at the camp and brought him in—if they’d called us.” Instead, numerous New York state troopers fanned out over the area in search of the alleged perpetrator. The manhunt had begun.
A De Facto Special-Victims Unit
On July 4, Stolz was found walking the floor of a casino in western New York. He was taken back to the police barracks in Queensbury, just a few miles from Lake George, where he was arrested, and interrogated for more than two hours. “He basically remained quiet most of the time,” says Mootz. “At one point he just got tired and said, ‘Talk to my lawyer.’”
Meanwhile, back at Brant Lake, children were told that Stolz had had to leave camp for a family emergency. However, rumors quickly spread as some of the older campers, who had allegedly seen the counselor being escorted off the property, shared the news with their younger siblings. As the Brant Lake directors would write in an e-mail to camp families on June 30, “We held meetings today with our entire camp community, by division, to share age-appropriate information about what occurred and to remind everyone to communicate with us if they have any concerns.” It was then the floodgates opened. So many boys alleged that Dylan Stolz had touched their genitals that Brant Lake converted its wooden lake house into a de facto special-victims unit.
And yet, Gersten continued to put a positive spin on events. On July 5, the day after Stolz’s arrest, he e-mailed the parents of the letter writer: “Another happy day for [your son]. Sure you are up on the news, probably know more than we do. Did hear about the need for boys to go to Warren County [district attorney] on Monday and Tuesday. I think a shame—getting them out of their groove.... If the DA would do it here (at least Monday), we would provide a private place. Wishing you well, Richie.”
Over several days, dozens of children and camp staff were interviewed in the lake house by police investigators and people from the Warren County District Attorney’s Office. According to Mootz, it quickly became clear that Stolz was sexually interested in “a wide gamut of children, weight-wise, color of hair–wise. But they all had the same kind of story. They all trusted him, they all believed him.... He was the god of that camp. Whatever he did, nobody ever questioned him.”
Together, the Warren County D.A. and law-enforcement officials worked to ready the boys for an experience that only weeks earlier, when they had arrived at Brant Lake for a “summer steeped in tradition and fun,” was all but unimaginable: testifying before a grand jury.
As challenging as it was sorting through allegations with such young children, working with the parents of some of the other campers who needed to be interviewed to determine if they, too, had been molested was even more so. “When I talk to the parents and describe the situation that happened and how the investigation is unfolding and what we’re doing, they thought I was lying to them,” says Mootz. “It was very hard for most of them to believe what was going on and still I think some of them don’t believe it. For whatever reason, it’s like they’re brainwashed when they go there.”
When the parents of the nine boys who testified before the grand jury that July made the trek upstate to accompany their sons to the courthouse, they came from apartments on the Upper East Side, summer homes in the Hamptons. They were people who had gone to good colleges, had their wedding announcements in The New York Times, worked hard in fields such as finance and real estate, and then handed over tidy sums to send their children to the best private schools and, in the summer, to Brant Lake, the place where “camp becomes home,” where “sports are done right,” and which has “remained under one family ownership” for more than 100 years.
It quickly became clear that Stolz was sexually interested in “a wide gamut of children.... But they all had the same kind of story. They all trusted him, they all believed him.... He was the god of that camp.”
“You could think, We’re sending them to the best private schools and camps, it can’t be happening there,” says a parent of one of the boys who testified. “But it could be happening, just as much as at public schools in the Bronx—maybe more, because there’s more one-on-one.” In Mootz’s view, “If [the letter writer] didn’t go to his mom and dad, this probably would have been brushed under the rug up there and [the parents] would have never known about it, that’s my feeling.”
Such is the lure of Brant Lake to a certain kind of sporty and competitive, predominantly upper-class, Jewish New York family, that even the molestation scandal didn’t seem to put much of a dent in its image. No one from the camp spoke to the press, and, according to the news reports that did appear, the camp had done just what it was supposed to: fire the offending counselor and notify the authorities.
But an in-depth investigation reveals a very different picture. Not only was Richie Gersten sent a written warning about Stolz’s inappropriate behavior with boys from a former counselor months before the first victim’s allegation surfaced, but Stolz wasn’t the only perpetrator. Sexual abuse had happened at Brant Lake Camp before, back during the vaunted tenure of Richie’s father, the late Bobby G. These allegations, as well as others in this story, were shared with Richie Gersten. He declined to comment on any of them.
The second part of this story will appear in the May 16 issue of AIR MAIL
Johanna Berkman is a writer based in New York City